Why critics Leigh Alexander and Anita Sarkeesian should not be silenced

“Videogames can never be art.” I remember those words back in 2010 stinging with their suggestion that gaming lacked any possibility. Here I was, this optimist who had these grand ideas about how gaming would change the face of entertainment and become a legitimized art form. I had my god-damn-I-just-saw-the-future epiphanies through the regulars like Metal Gear Solid’s cinematic narrative. I contemplated over the real anger I felt for Sephiroth in Final Fantasy VII. Questions like whether or not a videogame could make someone cry also occasionally shot clear in my mind. While some gamers eagerly waited for the next jump-to-the-next-platform Mario title, I was naively waiting for gaming’s next Sistine Chapel.

Herein enters Roger Ebert, a film reviewer. Iconic in his understanding of cinema, often expressed in the elegant ways in which he first expressed it in, “two thumbs up.” That Roger Ebert. This man who helped shape my love for writing didn’t view the medium as I did. He couldn’t see it as this revolutionary thing that had all the trappings to be evolutionary in its influence. The borrowed forms of storytelling were like fragments of evidence that he refused to draw upon: audio, video, written and the defining unique separator, interaction. My sudden annoyance in this man allowed me to view him like some foreign invader who by an off chance, decided to chime in on the medium I spent years loving. A large section of the industry took up a similar cause, denouncing his opinion as if it were blasphemy. Gamers took to his Twitter feeds and produced over 4,500 comments on his personal website in an effort to change one man’s opinion and help him see the figurative light.

While Ebert may have come away with a new found respect for the medium and the exhaustion that comes with angering its fan base, the situation also came at the cost of revealing something very hypocritical and ugly about the loudest of gamers: that we’re a selectively sensitive bunch. Even when the conversation moves away from Ebert, it’s easy to have witnessed the triggers over the years. Give a popular title a bad review: check. Produce a column that argues for the lack of diversity, or against the status quo: check. And one major gem, mention the word misogyny in a videogame review: double check.

While Ebert may have come away with a new found respect for the medium and the exhaustion that comes with angering its fan base, the situation also came at the cost of revealing something very hypocritical and ugly about the loudest of gamers: that we’re a selectively sensitive bunch.

It’s hard to blame us when news organizations have been using the medium as a scapegoat for years. Just about every school shooting and violent tirade involving a kid and a controller merits a talk with a random psychologist on air. Then there’s the Jack Thomsons of the world that have spent years trying to limit the reach of videogames and preaching their ill effects on today’s youth. This constant badgering from all sides over a medium that’s rarely understood has produced an audience that’s reactionary and defensive to anything that threatens normalcy.

But let’s be real. None of that excuses hypocrisy. I can always claim that I’ve fallen victim to this level of thinking, but I can simultaneously say that I’m consistent. How can I claim to want legitimacy out of this medium as an art form and ignore a critic that decides to look at it as more than a hardware tool? When the Leigh Alexanders and Anita Sarkeesians decide that they want to critique videogames on a socially conscious level beyond graphics, sound and gameplay, how exactly does this do anything but help strengthen the argument that videogames are an art form? To be viewed as such, it requires that critics be allowed to analyze it by the same standards. Anger becomes phony when a subset of gamers are quick to claim that GTA V or Assassin’s Creed Unity are “just games” when a woman decides that she wants to highlight something misogynist. Simultaneously, these same gamers raise their collective arms when Ebert tries to imply the same assessment, that they’re “just games”, not worthy of the title of art. Like Ebert’s previous opinions, it doesn’t require everyone to agree, but as reviewers and commentators of the medium, it’s within their right to judge a product with more sophistication and with different eyes. Eyes that bring with it their own perspectives about the world that extend beyond talks of resolutions and frames per second. Silencing that type of critique is the same as steering the message that games are “just” entertainment and capable of nothing more.

Anger becomes phony when a subset of gamers are quick to claim that GTA V or Assassin’s Creed Unity are “just games” when a woman decides that she wants to highlight something misogynist.

It’s that kind of hypocrisy that can cause a journalist like Alexander to claim that ‘gamers are over,’ in an article about Gamergate (I really didn’t want to mention that). It’s another fixed statement that sounds much like Ebert’s in tone, but twisted in itself since it comes from a gamer. She believed that the term gamer was becoming synonymous with a bubble. A bubble that consciously or not, views its medium as something that doesn’t invite mainstream opinions and refuses to evolve. It’s this push to silence people with socially aware opinions that has now made its way to mainstream media outlets like the New Yorker, CNN, The New York Times and MSNBC over threats made to those that want to create a dialog about gender diversity within the medium.

Some will say it’s about ethics and the freedoms critics have to push their feminist agendas. In the end I say, why should you care? Every creative medium has its critics of all kinds, but the difference is that they’re given the freedoms to express these opinions without public threats of death and harm. They’ve been given the time to evolve to that point. As long as the audience that governs the way companies sell their products continues to preach about ethics while consciously silencing others, it’s safe to say that Ebert may have had a point when he stated, that games can never be art; though I don’t think it would have rang true in the way that he intended.

#BeyondTheSpecs

@NoelRansome